Search on for bus depot to house hydrogen 

Function Junction site not compatible with pilot project

The municipality is searching the valley for a new site to hold a transit depot and fuelling station.

The search comes at the request of B.C. Transit, which will be providing Whistler with 20 state of the art hydrogen fuel cell buses in 2009, as well as a fuelling station.

“We’ve been told that hydrogen fuelling is not compatible with the Function location,” said Mayor Ken Melamed. “B.C. Transit has asked us to look at securing a new sight.”

There are several reasons why the site in Function Junction does not work. The facility is not large enough for a hydrogen and natural gas fuelling station, which would mean the buses would have to fuel up at a different site.

The gaseous nature of the fuel also has specific setback requirements to other businesses due to fire and safety issues. The Function site does not meet those setbacks.

The new hydrogen buses are 40 feet long, which is five to 10 feet longer than the existing buses, and that means there’s not enough room for the buses to turn around.

Finally, there isn’t sufficient space for a larger fleet, in the long-term, in the Function location and Whistler’s vision for the future is to see an expanded transit system.

When asked if council was looking at leasing land from the Crown or buying land outright, the mayor said all options are being explored at a variety of sites within Whistler’s boundary.

The information on the new bus depot and fuelling station comes after a report to council detailing the upcoming hydrogen bus pilot project.

Brian Barnett, the municipality’s general manager of environmental services, explained to council that the project is a provincial and federal initiative, funded by those partners. The main thrust, he said, is to provide an opportunity for some of the high-tech industries to showcase their product.

Whether or not hydrogen is a viable fuel in the future has yet to be determined and the project will provide some answers.

“We haven’t entered into the debate about hydrogen as a future fuel source,” Barnett explained after the meeting.

“We’re just allowing this pilot project to take place.”

Council was clear Monday night that the pilot project does not represent their endorsement of hydrogen.

“I’m not sure that we had a lot of choice for this role,” said Councillor Tim Wake.

At the same time, the mayor said council was supporting the commitment of Premier Gordon Campbell to a greener, more sustainable future, and having Whistler showcase the technology during the Games is one of the most powerful messages it can send to the world.

“We are willing participants in this pilot project,” said Melamed.

The fleet, the largest of its kind in the world, is expected to arrive in Whistler in the latter half of 2009. One bus will be tested in Whistler during the winter of 2008-09.

Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden also stressed that Whistler will be getting another six to seven new buses, in addition to the hydrogen buses, representing a brand new fleet.

That is an accelerated replacement of the existing Whistler fleet. It has yet to be determined if those buses will be natural gas or diesel.

The hydrogen pilot project will be funded until 2014. At that time it will be determined if the buses will be retrofitted with new engines or remain as hydrogen buses.

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